Visiting Lucy

Lucy the Elephant

Looking for something to do that’s uniquely New Jersey. A visit with Lucy the Elephant fits the bill.

Originally known as the “Elephant Bizarre”, Lucy was the brainstorm of James Lafferty, a child of Irish immigrants born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After receiving a patent for his idea in 1881, Lafferty began construction in South Atlantic City, an area that would in 1909 become Margate City. Unfortunately, Lafferty’s grand plan ended in financial ruin, and he was forced to sell his creation in 1887 to Anton Gertzen. The Gertzen family owned and operated Lucy the Elephant until they sold her to developers in 1970.

National Park Service – Public Domain – Lucy in 1970

Lucy had been used as a restaurant, bar, business office, and rental cottage. By 1970, she was in serious disrepair and her new owners, concerned that she would collapse under her own weight, decided to tear her down. A citizens group came to the rescue and raised enough money to relocate and refurbish Lucy to her former glory.

Lucy the Elephant was reopened to the public in 1974 at her new location, about 100 yards from where she had been constructed in 1881. We arrived with our granddaughters for a tour on a cloudy Saturday morning.

We climbed up narrow wooden stairs to a small room inside Lucy’s belly for a brief talk and presentation. Afterwards, we climbed up to the howdah and took in the views.

The View

Lucy is situated on a small lot about 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this seemingly precarious location, she has survived harsh winter nor’easters, hurricanes, lightning strikes, and (most recently) Superstorm Sandy, which made landfall just a few miles away with 80 mph winds.

The End

We enjoyed our tour and visit. If you are looking for a truly unique roadside attraction, why not give Lucy the Elephant a try.

Photos of George

Not long ago I spent a day with my wife exploring Valley Forge National Park in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Many of the buildings were closed or had restricted access (Covid, of course), but there was plenty to see and do around the park.

George Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge

Located near Washington’s Headquarters is a statue cast in 1932 as a bronze copy of a marble statue by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Completed sometime between 1788 and 1792, the Houdon statue stands in the Virginia State House in Richmond, Virginia.

Informational Sign at Valley Forge

On this delightful day, I spent some time examining Houdon’s likeness of our nation’s father, capturing George against the mid-summer sun and sky.

Begin at the beginning….

I have decided to streamline  and combine my two blogging sites over time into one. Here is a post from 2012 where I started talking about my family history.

My Family History

My story begins in rural Logan County, West Virginia.  I was born in 1957, the eldest child of Donald and Minnie “Dee” Cantrell.  For the first years of my life, my family rented a small house in a coal camp called Kelly.  Though I have almost no memory of our home in Kelly, we lived there long enough for me to gain a brother and sister.  Just before I began elementary school, we moved from Kelly a few miles down the river to Sharples, another little town where I would spent the next 13 years of my life.  Our new home was situated near the end of a dirt road “up a holler”.  Well, more specifically, we lived in Sodom Holler – so you know there has to be a story there!

I’ll pause now and offer an explanation for those readers who may be unfamiliar with the speech of my rural birth place.  Nestled in the heart of…

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Family History Weekend – Fort Delaware

Taking the Ferry to Pea Patch Island, Delaware

The day was pleasantly warm and overcast, beautiful weather for July on the eastern seaboard, as I boarded the Delaware State Park ferry for Pea Patch Island. I had been looking forward to this trip for some time now, ever since I discovered the importance of this tiny island to my family history and I was excited to finally be here.

I was thinking about what it must have looked like nearly 150 years ago, in July 1863, as thousands of prisoners fresh from the battlefields of Gettysburg looked across the Delaware River at this little island that was about to become their involuntary home.

Approaching Fort Delaware

My 3rd great-grandfather, Francis Marion Watts, was 16 years old when the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861. His ancestors had migrated from Pennsylvania through the Great Valley of the Appalachian Mountains, passing through Georgia and the Carolinas before settling in southwestern Virginia in the early 1800s. Marion, as he was known, was the youngest of 11 children born to Ambrose and Jane (Swearingen) Watts and had lived in rural Wayne County, Virginia his entire young life.

A month before his 18th birthday in April 1862, he traveled to Logan County, Virginia to volunteer for 3 years of service as a Private in the 34th Virginia Calvary Battalion. This Confederate unit, also known as the 1st Battalion, Virginia Mounted Rifles and Witcher’s Battalion, was commanded by Major Vincent Witcher, a young lawyer turned officer known as much for his ruthlessness as his daring actions on the battlefield.

The 34th Virginia took the field on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg as part of J.E.B. Stuart’s Calvary. Though official counts placed the strength of the unit between 175 and 225 soldiers, now Lt. Colonel Witcher claimed that he took “432 men into the field but only 96 came out.” Marion was not among the 96 who came out of the battlefield. Taken prisoner during the battle, he would soon be on a train to Philadelphia, followed by a steamboat ride down the Delaware River to Pea Patch Island.

A family of Osprey watched intently as my ferry, the Delafort, slipped its berth and glided into the Delaware River toward Pea Patch Island. According to local tradition, the island was formed after a 1770 ship wreck dumped a cargo of peas onto a muddy sandbar in the river. The peas took root and gave the resulting island a name.

Fort Delaware

After disembarking the Delaport and a short tram ride through freshwater marshes, I found myself standing near the moat surrounding the fort. A small group of Civil War reenactors depicting the 5th Delaware Infantry could be found around the Fort and they were happy to give short tours and explain its history. I learned that the 5th Delaware had been garrisoned at the Fort and performed guard duties in 1863 while my grandfather was held there.

Reenactors – 5th Delaware Infantry

The guides explained that shortly after the War of 1812 the US government realized the need for improving coastal defenses and began building several forts to guard key waterways and cities. Fort Delaware was completed in 1824 and was occupied in 1825 by the 2nd U.S. Artillery Regiment to protect nearby Wilmington and Philadelphia

Fort Delaware Prisoner-of-War Camp

This diorama depicts the construction that took place during 1862 and 1863, converting Fort Delaware from a coastal defense garrison to a prisoner-of-war camp capable of housing 10,000 people. At the time of the Civil War, Pea Patch Island was only about 75 acres in size. The prison housed about 3000 people at the end of June 1863, but the population grew to nearly 13,000 by the end of July with the arrival of prisoners captured at Gettysburg. Since over half the island was taken up by the fort and housing provided to senior officers, those 13,000 mostly enlisted Confederate prisoners were housed in barracks on about 30 acres of swampy ground.

Prisoner Barracks

Exploring the island, I made my way to this reconstructed model of the barracks used to house prisoners.

Prisoner Barracks

The conditions inside the barracks were spartan, at best. Stretching along both outside walls were long rough lumber benches, built three high, intended as sleeping spaces for the prisoners. Since there were no guides around during this part of my visit, I tried to estimate the number of space that might be available in each barracks. My best guess put the number at around 300 – who knows how many men actually ended up in each barracks but I am sure it was more, perhaps considerably more, than 300.

Officer Housing

For comparison, I found this recreated bedroom in housing provided to officers inside the Fort. Mid-ranking officers, Major and Lt. Colonel, would be provide two such bedrooms connected by a parlor to accommodate their families while stationed at the Fort. High-ranking officers were provide with the individual homes seen in the diorama on the south side (right side) of the island.

I finished exploring the island and made my way back to the ferry. The day had grown warmer and more humid, though still pleasant by July standards.

I thought about Marion. Sometimes, while collecting names and dates in my family history database, its hard for me to imagine what their lives might have been like. My trip to Fort Delaware opened a small window for me into Marion’s life – where I glimpsed the harsh challenges he faced as a 19 year old veteran of the Virginia Calvary during the summer of 1863.

Until next time….

Local Tourism – Chestnut Neck Battle Monument

Chestnut Neck Battle Monument viewed from Chestnut Neck Road

Do you enjoy local tourism? I am constantly on the lookout for interesting or unusual sites to visit in my local area. Fortunately, with many Revolutionary War battle sites, New Jersey has plenty to offer for local tourists.

Located near Smithville Historic Village in Atlantic County, the Chestnut Neck Battle Monument is an interesting, if easy to miss, stop for local tourists and Revolutionary War history buffs. Bounded by U.S. Route 9, Chestnut Neck Road, and Old New York Road, this small park commemorates the October 6, 1778 attack by a fleet of British Navy war ships on the little village of Chestnut Neck.

Why would the British Navy go to the trouble of sending a fleet of war ships from New York harbor to attack a small village on the Little Egg Harbor River (now known as Mullica River) in New Jersey?

Chestnut Neck was an important shipping harbor in 1778 and privateers, acting on behalf of the Continental Army, used the village as a base of operations. The privateers would bring captured British vessels to the harbor to offload their cargo. Some of the cargo would go to the Continental Army, while the rest was sold by the privateers to buyers throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia. Captured ships would also be sold or, sometimes, converted for use by the privateers.

The privateers not only hurt British trade, driving up prices and interrupting shipments, but they provided the Continental Army with supplies and money. By the Fall of 1778, British commanders decided to take action and dispatched a fleet of war ships from New York to the harbor. Fortunately, Chestnut Neck residents had advanced warning of the raid and had largely evacuated the village, along with much of the stolen cargo.

Two forts guarded Chestnut Neck, but both lacked cannons to defend against the oncoming ships. The Continental Army’s Third Militia Battalion, acting on the advanced warning of the attack, arrived in time to provide defense for the village. However, lacking cannons, the Militia could do little from preventing the British Navy’s cannonade of forts and village.

A land battle followed the cannonade, with the Third Militia engaging several hundred British soldiers who had come ashore some distance from the village. Aside from the burning of the village and forts, the only casualty from the fighting was one British soldier who was shot in the leg.

Despite the great effort and expense by the British to disrupt the privateers’ activities, destruction of Chestnut Neck proved little more than a bump in the road. Within a month of the battle, privateers were once more prowling the ocean along the New Jersey shore and capturing British vessels.

The monument was dedicated on October 6, 1991 by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the 133rd anniversary of the battle. If you are looking for a bit of easily accessible local history, Chestnut Neck Battle Monument fits the bill.

Until next time.

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